Electric Vehicle Battery Fires Are A Serious Problem

Government / Comments

What's being done about them?

The growing list of automakers committing themselves to battery-electric vehicles is excellent news for those concerned about climate change and the environment, but perhaps somewhat less so for firefighters and first responders. All EVs, from the Tesla Model 3 to the Ford Mustang Mach-E, are equipped with lithium-ion batteries that pose safety concerns following high-speed crashes and other types of accidents.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a call for automakers earlier this week to come up with a detailed list of guidelines for fires caused by these batteries following accidents. This information will be crucial for first responders for their own protection while trying to save victims' lives. One disturbing possibility is that these battery fires could reignite even after they've extinguished the first time.

2017-2021 Tesla Model 3 Front View Driving Tesla
Front Angle View Ford
2017-2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Front View Chevrolet

The agency also wants these guidelines to include things like how to safely store batteries after they've been damaged. Automakers must also place a greater emphasis on research on battery hazards. Another key request is for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create its own list of guidelines when determining safety ratings under its New Car Assessment Program. First responders have decades of experience dealing with fires as a result of ruptured gas tanks and other combustion engine-related damage, but batteries are a whole new realm and already there have been problems.

The NTSB has conducted four investigations involving Tesla vehicles, three of which burst into flames following high-speed crashes. The fourth was due to a battery failure. The three vehicles involved in crashes, however, reignited in flames after firefighters eliminated them.

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Marc De Roeck/HLN
Marc De Roeck/HLN
AMG-Powered Cars Not From Mercedes
AMG-Powered Cars Not From Mercedes
Ferrari Models We Almost Forgot
Ferrari Models We Almost Forgot

Tesla isn't the only automaker whose EVs caught on fire due to suspected battery issues. The Chevy Bolt was the most recent example. Unlike combustion engines, there's often still energy remaining in batteries post-crash and automakers need to define methods for firefighters to de-energize them. "The risks of electric shock and battery re-ignition/fire arise from the 'stranded' energy that remains in a damaged battery," the agency stated.

Chemical hazards and high-voltage shocks are additional issues of concern. For the time being the NTSB believes one method to deal with damaged batteries is to remove them from the vehicle and soak them in saltwater to discharge the remaining energy.

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